The Resurrection of Marcellus

Chris Davies

Marcellus closed his eyes, and did not feel death take him.

From what eternal slumber have I arisen?
What dreamless sleep brought me to this nightmare?
I stand on shingle stones, water lapping at my feet,
The horizon shrouded in pale mist; a craft approaches.
All is melancholy grey; the light of life sank with the sun.
I want to weep, but no tears escape the prison of my eyes,
I mouth a prayer for rosey-fingered dawn to free me from this twilight,
But I cannot speak, I cannot hear;
My ears burn with the thundering silence of oblivion.
I stand among a forest of the dead; the pebbles punctuated by bones,
Skeletal shapes sleep around me, souls slumbering in the void.
Next to them lie the limbless, waiting patiently for their voyage to infinity,
And stood are the lifeless, the new and untimely dead.
Soldiers stand statuesque in rusted armour, their cloaks ragged and torn,
Their sheaths empty, shields shattered and spears lost,
Their once proud and vibrant crests are now bedraggled and black,
Their standards stolen by the unconquerable enemy.
With vacant haunted eyes they peer from sunken sockets,
Watching for the vessel that will ferry them to freedom,
Freedom from this liminality, the in-between,
To where their bodies may be fixed,
For now all are splintered, torn and broken,
Though no blood runs; too much colour for so bleak a world.

How treacherous were your lies, Epicurus!
How did you feel when you stood where I now stand?
Did you drown in your regrets, or surface to salvation?
Will I find you in the green fields of Elysium,
Or hang with you from the stark and withered willows,
The only ones who will weep for us?

But perhaps I am not to join you?
My lack of sense is shattering,
Fear and pain both are growing,
A steely grip entwines my neck,
Too tight for my feeble, fractured fingers.
It pulls me through the pebbles,
Towards a bright and blinding light,
Igniting my nerves in burning pain;
Yet still the silence remains.

Born again, Marcellus screamed into life,
Blind in the darkness, save for two lights;
Sun and Moon.
The air was alive with the cries of wolves,
Dancing with some unknown tongue,
Singing to his smoke-like form,
And amidst the hellish clamour Marcellus heard his name,
It called him three times, beckoning, ordering.
He drifted slowly forward, and without thought began to lie down,
Entering some cold shell that lay on the rocky ground,
He felt encaged within some freezing tomb,
His lungs seemed to fill with thick, black oil,
And his mouth was dry with choking ash,
He seemed then to burn in agony, though no flame licked his wounds.

His blindfold was removed, and the world began to take shape,
Skyward he gazed, to moon and stars and purple night,
Fading as they were behind portentous clouds.
He was then lifted, as if hinged to the ground, by invisible hands,
And in his ascent was revealed the horror of his rebirth;
He was again upon the field of battle – the same he had not long since departed,
And through his skull the dull blade of Memory cut;

The rocky ground was strewn with severed limbs,
Gaping mouths and gaunt eyes; empty bodies all,
Ghastly, ghostly and gazing, lidless eyes fingered for his own,
The snowy eyes of the child-soldier that faced Marcellus,
Spread across the earth on a blanket of blood,
Destroyed by his hand and his steel;
One of many Marcellus slew that day.

Like some Gorgonian victim, his body stood as stone,
Cold, hard, and featureless he was,
His breath poison, hung thick with the dirty smell of death;
He was fear, and terror, and horror,
Come to this world a shadow of his former self,
Caged within his earthly form,
Itself freed from armour and steel,
But cut and filled with blood and witchcraft.
Marcellus begged his throat to form a scream,
But the voice that came seemed not his own,
Rather that of some great black bat,
Forged in the fires of Tartarus,
Crying into the bitter darkness.
In the absence of tears to quell the flames,
Marcellus’ eyes burned with a terrible fire,
Pin pricks of white light they became,
Though they illuminated nothing,
And in their pale, star-like sparkle,
Malice and anger flickered.

Silhouetted against a great fire, unbound and wild, was Lycaenion,
Her haggard and wrinkled form clad only in sable shades.
She approached him slowly, gazing all the while with double pupils,
“Marcellus, child of Rome and Mars, adopted by Pluto,
Hecate gives me strength to speak to you, so hear and heed my calls!”
Motionless, Marcellus watched her,
And rather from his mouth,
Like a hawk or vulture his voice drifted on the breeze,
Harsh and cold, it whispered;
“Why have you done this to me? Release me!”
“I will,” the hag replied from untrustworthy mouth,
“And in doing so I shall reward you with burial,
So that you may pass beyond the grey shore!”
Marcellus longed for an escape from his torturous existence;
More great and terrible a pain was with him now
In death than anything he had felt in life;
“What must I do?” he asked.
“You have passed into the void,
You are blessed with the wisdom of ages,
Lend me your knowledge so that I may help another!
I have with me beautiful Lucilla,
Wife of noble Ennius, a man under you.
Tell us – for this is why I have disturbed your slumber –
Has he passed into the nether realms?
Or does he still feel the sunshine and taste the rain?
This woman cannot find her husband upon the field,
And she longs for his warmth,
Or if he is dead, she wishes to bury him with honour.”

Marcellus looked behind the body of the bawd,
To a fragile figure wrapped in morning blue,
Red hair framed her tear-streaked face,
And her skin was pale and white;
She feared his ghostly spectre.
And he pitied her.

From some fountain or spring his spirit drank,
And the wisdom of ages filled his soul.
Marcellus’ soul took flight, and drifted over the fields of slain;
Still, and sleeping in silent mockery of his resurrection,
But prey to birds and dogs, picking their fill of blind eyes,
Until he passed from the field, into a thicket of twisted olive trees,
To a fast-flowing river, upon which the moonlight skipped,
There he found a body, exhausted, lying in the dust,
And Marcellus saw again the longing eyes of Lucilla,
And his flight was over.
The women waited, and the wind answered;
“Head west, to where the battlefield slopes into a wood,
In this there runs a silver thread, next to which lays loyal Ennius,
Wounded, but comforted by gentle Sleep;
Go to him, Lucilla, and wake him with your kiss.”

Lucilla fell to her knees and wept tears of joy,
And despite her trembling heart she looked again upon Marcellus,
And thanked him.
She turned to leave, to hunt for her husband,
But Marcellus spoke again;
“Where is my wife? Why has she not called for me?”
The light that shone in his eyes dimmed,
And it seemed as if his face changed,
Like some great sorrow crowned him.
Cruel and cunning Lycaenion spoke;
“None have asked for you, Marcellus, save for me.”

A silence descended, in which only the fire spoke.
The sky rumbled, and began to cry.
Marcellus’ body shook, and his mouth gaped open in a hideous grin,
The heavy air was filled with a terrifying scream,
And the light of his eyes turned red.
At once Lycaenion reached for her rattling chains,
And with them she beat the ground around the corpse,
The steel sending bolts of pain through Marcellus’ body,
Fear boiling in his refilled-veins, though he knew not why,
And she called in her Thessalian tongue many orders and threats,
Until, like a felled tree, his twice-dead body dropped.
In its place stood his spirit un-caged,
Black, and smoke-like,
Freed from its prison and tomb.
A transformation began; the shade twisting, forming horns, a wolf’s face,
And the legs of a bull, though it remained standing like a man.
Lucilla took flight, while Lycaenion’s attack reached its crescendo.
He was beaten back, fading, failing, falling;
And as he fell his eyes welled,
Filled with the sight of his lost family
– Rose scented remembrance –
And he cursed his newfound immortality,
His beautiful reward;
Marcellus closed his eyes, and did not feel death take him.

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